Leaders’ Questions

Earlier today, Commissioner Rehn made it clear that he expects Ireland to receive a reduction in interest payments relating to the support loan. He all but announced a reduction earlier today and it has been clear since the beginning of the year that this would happen. As expected, it appears from his statement to form part of a wider restructuring of support programmes for Greece and Portugal. However, I am sure the Taoiseach will agree this is nowhere near the end of the matter as there remain major issues concerning the ECB, funding mechanisms for the bank and the ongoing measures required to reduce our deficit. The immediate question arises as to what is the Government policy concerning the money saved by this reduction. Will it be used to reduce the deficit or will it be diverted into spending?

It is fair to state there is a clear division between the Government parties on this matter and I ask the Taoiseach to state clearly two matters. First, will the Taoiseach reassure the House that Ireland's consistent opposition to the introduction of Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base remains firm and has not and will not be compromised in exchange for the reduction of the interest rate? Second, will he clarify whether the reduction in the interest rate and the savings arising therefrom will be used to pay down the debt or used for further spending?

I have noted the comments of Commissioner Rehn. This matter has not been finalised as yet and there have been some expectations in this regard for some time. I have noted the perception that often applies before European meetings of either Ministers or Heads of Government and I am always one to wait and see what actually happens. The Government is negotiating on an interest rate reduction and I am aware of the Commissioner's comments. As the Deputy is aware, this matter was devolved to the Ministers for Finance to be dealt with and that meeting will take place on Monday next. It is clear that an interest rate reduction would be in this country's interest. This was endorsed by President of the Commission Barroso and has been referred to by others, including the Irish Commissioner, Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn, yesterday. I prefer to wait and see what happens here. The situation in Portugal and Greece is of very topical conversation in Europe, as the Deputy is aware. Ireland is proceeding on the basis of looking for this deal on a constant basis. We have made the case in respect of an interest rate reduction and are continuing to do that. Obviously, after the meeting next week, we will know whether a conclusion can actually be reached here.

In respect of the Deputy's question about the reduction in the debt and our spending on job creation measures, he will be aware that while the language in the memorandum of understanding still stands, there is a clear understanding that, for instance, the sale of non-strategic public assets will be looked at on a case-by-case basis in respect of investment in job creation, of which the jobs initiative today is but a down payment in terms of the programme for Government.

The EU-IMF programme states that anything realised from the sale of State assets would be used to pay down the debt, but my question was about the reduction in the interest rate, the savings arising from that and how they will be used. Problematically, confusion is developing about the clear statements in the programme for Government and the revised EU-IMF agreement. In terms of the economic background and in advance of the Government implementing new policies, the Minister, Deputy Noonan, has released figures that, according to him, show that Government finances are ahead of expectations while Deputy Howlin has released figures showing that public service numbers are being reduced in line with expectations. Today there has been news from Commissioner Rehn. In light of the fact that there is no change in the fiscal——

A supplementary question, please.

I am asking one in light of the matter raised. Given that there has been no change in the fiscal situation to force a change in the policies agreed ten weeks ago, will the Taoiseach explain the current status of the coalition's tax promise? The programme for Government states clearly that bands and credits will be maintained, but the Cabinet published a document last week stating that the next budget would include a lowering of tax bands and credits, which means that working people will need to pay more tax on their incomes. There is no way for the Taoiseach to spin his way out of this one.

Deputy Martin would know.

Is this a straightforward——

Deputy Martin cannot spin his way out of this either, but his time is up. The Taoiseach to reply.

(Interruptions).

There is a time limit on this question.

It is a straightforward contradiction between two documents agreed by the Government.

There were 15 years of contradiction.

This is another U-turn and broken promise.

The Taoiseach has one minute to reply.

Deputy Martin is aware that this situation has not been concluded yet because it has not been finally negotiated.

I have made it perfectly clear in respect of the interest rate reduction that, following the fact that the bank stress tests were not concluded by the Heads of Government meeting, the Ministers for finance would pursue that.

I was not asking about the interest rate.

I have noted the comments of different Commissioners and Ministers for finance. The fact of the matter is that the meeting takes place next Monday.

That was not the supplementary question at all.

I quite understand that——

He is trying to answer another question.

——but I wanted to say to the Deputy that the matter of the interest rate negotiation is not concluded yet. Following discussions between the troika and the Minister for Finance and the Minister for public expenditure and reform, the memorandum of understanding has had to be revised extensively in respect of the mess that they are looking to clear up and in respect of which, on a daily basis, there are now figures inserted by the Deputy's own Government for which there was no backup to achieve in terms of spending and savings.

The Government is saying that the figures are ahead of target and better than expected. The Ministers, Deputy Noonan and Deputy Howlin, have stated it.

He is spinning well now.

(Interruptions).

In respect of the income tax position, let me be quite clear. The Government will honour its commitment in respect of there being no increase in the income tax bands. The extract from the memorandum of understanding says that the comprehensive spending review under way will be completed in September 2011 and that the budgetary measures outlined above will be examined by the Government in light of the findings of the review of the programme for Government. Based on the CSE and in consultation with the European Commission, the IMF and the ECB, the Government will introduce budgetary changes that will aim to realise fully the efficiencies identified while remaining fiscally neutral. We have no intention of reneging upon the commitment in respect of income tax.

I have been trying hard to understand the Taoiseach's negotiating strategy regarding——

(Interruptions).

Deputy Adams, please.

Every circus needs its clowns.

Please, the Deputy should proceed as best he can.

(Interruptions).

I would like the Taoiseach's help.

By God, we will help. We have the pick and shovel for Deputy Adams.

This seems to be about reducing the interest rate on the bailout. While this is important, it will happen anyway, as other Sinn Féin Deputies and I have stated previously. I am trying to come to terms with the matter. As I look at the Greek Government's situation, the Taoiseach has not even had a discussion with his counterparts at a summit on Ireland's disastrous situation. In fact, he boasted in the Chamber about taking the issue off the agenda.

Does the Taoiseach know that the Greek Government recently had a high-level meeting with select EU finance Ministers to discuss the worsening Greek situation? Has he received any word about this secretive emergency meeting, which involved France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, the European Central Bank and Olli Rehn, the European economics Commissioner?

It was not much of a secret.

Does the Taoiseach know that European Commission President Barroso, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the European Council President are to meet tomorrow, not to discuss the awful situation pressing down upon the Irish people——

Does the Deputy have a question? His time is up.

——but to discuss the Greek situation? As the Taoiseach stated, Greece and Portugal are at the top of the EU's conversation. Why is Ireland not at the top? The Taoiseach should explain that to the House.

I have no intention of decrying the people of Greece, Portugal or their governments, which are dealing with difficult situations. In so far as we are concerned, wewant to focus on the difficulties that we have as a country and as a Government that is grappling to resuscitate an economy left in an atrocious mess by the previous Government. Be that as it may, the situation is that this will not happen, as the Deputy knows, unless negotiated agreements are reached. The fact of the matter is that the Ministers for finance will meet next Monday, these matters are on the agenda, we will be in discussion and negotiation with our counterparts in Europe up to and during that meeting and, hopefully, a conclusion can be reached.

I have not spoken to Mr. Juncker, who called the meeting in Luxembourg at short notice, nor have I spoken to any of the persons the Deputy mentioned and who are meeting tomorrow. All I can confirm to him is that I have spoken with our Minister for Finance and, on behalf of the Government, he has been delegated to continue these negotiations. An interest rate reduction in Ireland's case would obviously be very welcome and very necessary but, for us, we must look at that as one issue and continue to seek improvements in the overall bailout deal, as we have pointed out on many occasions.

Obviously, the Taoiseach knows nothing about any of the questions I asked, as he did not answer any of them.

They were all in the newspapers on Saturday.

I was not decrying the Greeks. I was praising them. Something that hurt me — I am sure it hurt every Irish citizen — was how some protestors at a demonstration in Greece had placards——

That is a novelty.

——that read, "We are not the Irish".

Therein lies the core of it. A fellow countyman of the Taoiseach's, Mr. John Healy, wrote a book many eons ago, entitledNo One Shouted Stop. He was referring to the scourge of emigration, but he could have been talking about this Government. We know what Fianna Fáil did, but it is not in government. Rather, the Taoiseach is in government. Some 500,000 people are unemployed.

Could I have a supplementary question, please?

On the way to the House this morning, I saw mile-long lines of people queuing for the dole. The jobs stimulus does not appear to be a serious investment plan on the Government's radar. What I am saying is simple — the Taoiseach needs to say "Stop". He needs to catch the attention of the senior partners in the two-tiered EU and tell them that this debt, as the Minister for Finance stated, is not sustainable. He said it; we have said it; the proverbial dogs in the street are saying it: we cannot afford the debt.

We should tell those at the upper echelons of the European Union that this is the case. We must get their attention and angry with them. The laughing hyenas behind them should be turned loose on those who have a responsibility——

The Deputy's time is up.

The Government has a responsibility to stand up for Irish interests, but it is not doing so.

Does the Deputy have any ideas?

Will the Taoiseach do this? Will he go and say, "Stop"?

(Interruptions).

Is ceist shimplí é.

I ask those on the backbenches to give Members a chance.

Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle.

To be truthful, I do not know whether there was a supplementary question. I remind Members that this is Leaders' Questions. It is not a time for statements. We can hear statements when this is over.

The Deputy is learning the ropes.

If there was a question, I ask the Taoiseach to answer it; if not, there is no answer to be given.

I will reply to the comments made. I assure Deputy Gerry Adams, as the leader of his party, that I will be proud to stand up for the Irish and all things Irish.

I will protect and defend all those who serve the State in so far as my constitutional responsibility goes. I want the Deputy to understand this. I did not see the placard in Athens, but I assure him we are not the Greeks. We are the Irish and will deal with our problem in our own way. We were left a particular legacy by the previous Government. It is not a very edifying sight.

A Deputy

We are Europeans.

In line with our practical approach of being up-front with the people and our European colleagues, we will spell it out as we see it. With regard to the Exchequer figures released last week, the Deputy is well aware that despite the difficulties, we are meeting our targets. We will continue to negotiate, as is the remit of the Minister for Finance, to achieve an interest rate reduction in the bailout deal and, as has been pointed out by Minister after Minister, to seek improvements in that deal for Ireland. Part of this is the jobs initiative being announced today which I hope Deputies will support. I notice the Sinn Féin Deputies have had a change of heart about the National Pensions Reserve Fund. They do not want it to be used for debt reduction purposes——

The Government would give it all away. It would give it to the bankers.

——but for job creation, which is welcome.

The improvements are not enough.

As the Deputy started by rolling up his sleeves, I will say, "Cuirfimid ár bhfir ag obair."

I want to ask the Taoiseach a few questions about what is happening in Dublin Bay and the new port expansion plan by the Dublin Port Company. It is linked with the broader issue of job creation. Earlier the Taoiseach mentioned the possibility of commemorating the Battle of Clontarf of 1014. There could be another Battle of Clontarf shortly. Does the Taoiseach accept the principle——

The Deputy is only allowed to ask one question.

——that Dublin Bay belongs to the people of Dublin and Ireland, not just the port company? Does he agree that the bay needs to be preserved and that filling in 40 ha. of land would constitute environmental vandalism, particularly when the Dublin Port Company does not need the land? Is he aware of the anger expressed about the master plan launched by the serving Minister at the Cabinet, Deputy Leo Varadkar, despite the fact that the stated policy position of both Government parties before the general election was that no further infill of the bay would be supported? Does he accept that the late Seán Dublin Bay Loftus and groups such as Dublin Bay Watch and the Clontarf Residents Association have spent the last 30 years fighting with Governments, City Hall and the Dublin Port Company to preserve and protect Dublin Bay and won that battle? With regard to the retention of employment, is the Taoiseach aware of the thousands of people who use Dublin Bay and walk on the sea front and the major impact this infill would have on local small businesses such as coffee shops, pubs and restaurants? What about the further potential of marine tourism and leisure destinations? Does the Taoiseach agree that Dublin Bay is a valuable natural resource and amenity and that filling in 40 ha. of it with rock, concrete and steel would seriously damage this asset?

We need a dual mandate.

Deputy Finian McGrath was mentioned in his absence as being the defender of Clontarf. Of course, I agree that Dublin Bay is a valuable amenity for the citizens of this city and country and those who come to visit us. In fact, arising from Captain Bligh's plumbing contract — he did the assessment of Dublin Bay — I have often had the opportunity during the years of walking on Bull Island and playing on the golf course. I hope the coffee shops and tourism outlets will thrive under the jobs initiative to be announced later by the Minister for Finance in the Dáil.

Their wages will be cut under it.

Obviously, this is a serious matter. Dublin Port is a powerhouse for jobs in this city and an important part of the economic strength of the country. Any proposals for development in Dublin Bay would have to be sustainable and go through a rigorous process. I am well aware of the campaign waged against a proposal to fill in sections of the bay in recent years, which I opposed. This is a matter that has been on the agenda for the past 30 years. Proposals for the development of Dublin Port would have to be sustainable and there is a rigorous process for dealing with them.

Will the Taoiseach ask the management team of the Dublin Port Company to manage its port land more efficiently and use other ways of updating the port? I also ask him not to allow the bay to be destroyed by vested interests because of its major potential. I ask him whether his Cabinet is split on the matter. One Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, says he is against the infill, while another, Deputy Leo Varadkar, says he wants to get on with the job and supports the Dublin Port Company. Is there a split in the Cabinet?Can the Taoiseach inform me of the Government's policy on the proposal? I ask him to clarify once and for all where the Government, including the Labour Party, stands on the proposed infill.

I will refer the Deputy's request for more efficient management of the port land to the board of the Dublin Port Company. As they say in Irish, táimid dlúthcheangailte lena chéile ar seo. There is no scoilt, as the Deputy might call it. In fact, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, was there merely to make a presentation. The words of the Minister for Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, are very clear. I assure the Deputy that, unlike the Battle of Clontarf, there is no split in the Cabinet on this matter.

Richard the Lionheart.